COSTELLO, with a pistol, executes a MAN kneeling in the surf

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Chigch

Senior Member
Mongolian
The following sentence was found in CORPUS OF CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN ENGLISH (COCA).

'YOUNG COSTELLO, with a pistol, executes a MAN kneeling in the surf.'

The phrase with a pistol, embraced by commas, splits the subject and the verb.
I doubt its grammaticality even thought it was found in an English corpus.

Do you all accept this sentence?
 
  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    There is, as far as I can see, nothing ungrammatical about it. We can find, with some ease, many other such examples. Young William Shakespeare, pen in hand, has surely written such sentences. :)

    The style is a little literary but there's nothing wrong with it (as long as the commas are there.)
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    I agree with Paul. Another possibility, particularly since this sounds like a caption to a photo, is that "with a pistol" is being used as a description to further identify the person in the photo, so it would be set off in opposition: "Young Costello, [shown] with a pistol, executes a man kneeling in the surf." This would be particularly likely if there is more than one person in the photo - that is, if you have the man kneeling in the surf and young Costello with his pistol, but also some other people without pistols standing around.
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    Thanks. everybody.

    But, does the same hold true for passive construction?


    'A MAN kneeling in the surf, with a pistol, was executed by YOUNG COSTELLO'
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Not unless the man kneeling was the one holding the pistol. :)

    It would have to be: 'A MAN kneeling in the surf was executed with a pistol by YOUNG COSTELLO.'

    I suppose you could have the commas in there as well, if you want:

    'A MAN kneeling in the surf was executed, with a pistol, by YOUNG COSTELLO.'
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    But, does the same hold true for passive construction?
    'A MAN kneeling in the surf, with a pistol, was executed by YOUNG COSTELLO'
    Not unless the man kneeling was the one holding the pistol.
    What if position of 'with a pistol' and the auxiliary are changed? or another passive verb 'got' is used?

    'A MAN kneeling in the surf was, with a pistol, executed by YOUNG COSTELLO' or
    'A MAN kneeling in the surf
    got, with a pistol, killed by YOUNG COSTELLO' or
    'A MAN kneeling in the surf , with a pistol, got killed by YOUNG COSTELLO'.

    I guess none of them is ok.
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    the responses to another thread you started recently (the houses, on the riverside located ...) should help in understanding the answers you're getting here.
    Thanks for telling this.

    In that thread, what is discussed is about locative prepositional phrases and participles inside something like a reduced relative clause that modifies noun (the house, etc).
    Here, however, a instrumental prepositional clause contained inside a full clause, neither inside a reduced relative, nor in a noun phrase.:)
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    What if position of 'with a pistol' and the auxiliary are changed? or another passive verb 'got' is used?

    'A MAN kneeling in the surf was, with a pistol, executed by YOUNG COSTELLO' or
    'A MAN kneeling in the surf
    got, with a pistol, killed by YOUNG COSTELLO' or
    'A MAN kneeling in the surf , with a pistol, got killed by YOUNG COSTELLO'.

    I guess none of them is ok
    are OK.
    You have not guessed correctly. First of all, the verb to get is never very elegant when used as an auxiliary; it lowers the register of what is said and often sounds awkward. This use of to get is often avoided by better English speakers, so I shall ignore the second example.

    The third example means that the man in the surf had the pistol.

    'A man kneeling in the surf was, with a pistol, executed by young Costello.' is OK. It is not at all the word order that you would use in everyday speech but it is possible. There is heavy implied emphasis on "with a pistol" and this is caused by the unusual, but not impossible, positioning of the phrase.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] In that thread, what is discussed is about locative prepositional phrases and participles inside something like a reduced relative clause that modifies noun (the house, etc).
    Here, however, a instrumental prepositional clause contained inside a full clause, neither inside a reduced relative, nor in a noun phrase.:)
    OK, but the principle of proximity of the prepositional phrase to whatever it modifies still holds good.
    [...] First of all, the verb to get is never very elegant when used as an auxiliary; it lowers the register of what is said and often sounds awkward. This use of to get is often avoided by better English speakers, so I shall ignore the second example. [...]
    :thumbsup::thumbsup: I'm often shouted down for saying that, so I'm glad someone else is waving the flag!

    On the other hand ...
    I guess none of them is ok are OK.
    ... I can't agree with that correction as an absolute position. There are schools of thought, each with many supporters. But that's not the topic here, so I won't elaborate.

    Ws:)
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    the principle of proximity of the prepositional phrase to whatever it modifies still holds good.
    This might be true. But it is definitely not that all prepositions behave the same way. In the previous thread, they are locative PPs, and they may take either sentimental (wide) scope or VP-internal (verb-phrase-internal, narrow) scope . In contrast, the 'with-phrase' here is instrumental PP. It is clear that 'with-phrase' can take narrow scope. What is unclear to me is whether 'with-phrase' can take wide scope or not. This is what I want to test out. And the principle concerning the locative phrases (as well as temporal phrases) doesn't seem to help here.:)
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] What is unclear to me is whether 'with-phrase' can take wide scope or not. This is what I want to test out. And the principle concerning the locative phrases (as well as temporal phrases) doesn't seem to help here.:)
    There's a big difference between "can take wide scope" and "normally takes wide scope". English is sometimes tolerant of unusual or non-standard word order, but not always — and a lot depends on the context, and on what meanings might make sense. It might help to recognise structures as falling into one of these groups:
    - normal and idiomatic
    - possible (would be understood), but unusual (maybe archaic, or maybe just bizarre)
    - unacceptable (because it changes the meaning, or is ambiguous, or is just incomprehensible)

    Whether locative, temporal or instrumental, the normal positioning of prepositional phrases is in close proximity to what's being modified, and usually postpositive.

    - 'A man kneeling in the surf was executed with a pistol by young Costello.' — (This is the normal position. He was executed with a pistol.)

    - 'A man kneeling in the surf was executed by young Costello with a pistol.' — (This is also idiomatic, though a little less precise. It would generally be understood to mean the same as the above; though it does allow for the slim possibility that Costello was holding a pistol, but that he executed the man by some other means.)

    - 'A man kneeling in the surf was, with a pistol, executed by young Costello.' — (This is possible, as Paul said, but is almost never said, except perhaps in poetry.)

    - 'A man kneeling in the surf, with a pistol, was executed by young Costello.' — (This is unacceptable if you want to keep the same meaning. It means, as James said, that the kneeling man had the pistol. Even with that meaning, if you change the context, you may have to rethink the positioning again ... "A man wearing a belt, with a pistol, ..." could suggest that the pistol was attached to the belt; "A man with a pistol, wearing a belt, ..." makes it clear that "with a pistol" modifies "a man", not "a belt".)

    By the way, you did introduce instrumental prepositional phrases (with- and by-) in that other thread (post #31), and we did discuss them, and it seems to me that the comments made there do apply to your examples here.

    Ws:)

     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    The door, with the axes, opened by the robbers, has been destroyed completely.

    There's a big difference between "can take wide scope" and "normally takes wide scope". English is sometimes tolerant of unusual or non-standard word order, but not always — and a lot depends on the context, and on what meanings might make sense. It might help to recognise structures as falling into one of these groups:
    - normal and idiomatic
    - possible (would be understood), but unusual (maybe archaic, or maybe just bizarre)
    - unacceptable (because it changes the meaning, or is ambiguous, or is just incomprehensible)
    I have said that my question is one of scope. But I am not sure whether it is or not. I just wanted to know how the structure, related with scope, sounds to native speakers. But as you said, there is a difference between 'can' take wide scope' and 'normally take wide scope'. I am not sure I understood what you meant. But at least I understood your explanations about the different positions with different meanings.

    I have also made a small survey about the preverbal PPs and I think they might fall under what is called 'disdjunct'. (Again, I am not sure). For example,

    They have left very early. (adjunct) vs. They have left, very early. (disdjunct)
    I dislike such behaviors, to be honest. (adjunct, but make no sense???) vs. I dislike such behaviors, to be honest. (disdjunct)
    I am angry but not with you. (adjunct, but make no sense???) vs I am angry, but not with you. (disdjunct) .
    (About such structures, I will discuss in another thread.)

    By the way, you did introduce instrumental prepositional phrases (with- and by-) in that other thread (post #31),
    They are similar, but not the same.
    That in post#31 in the previous thread (The door, with the axes, opened by the robbers, has been destroyed completely.) is intended for testing out the possibility of the structure in noun phrases. That is, the structure would be: [The door, [with the axes, opened by the robbers]], has been destroyed completely.

    In contrast, in this thread, what I have been tried to test out is about the similar structure in clauses, not in noun phrases.
    That is, the structure would be: A man kneeling in the surf [was, [with a pistol, executed by young Costello]].
    The principles behind them might be the same. But we cannot simply preclude a possibility of existing a difference between them.:)
     
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] But as you said, there is a difference between 'can take wide scope' and 'normally take wide scope'. I am not sure I understood what you meant. [...]
    I meant that it's not totally impossible for such a phrase to take wide scope; but that in normal, idiomatic English it's unusual.
    [...] I have also made a small survey about the preverbal PPs and I think they might fall under what is called 'disdjunct'. (Again, I am not sure). [...]
    That would be "disjunct". But you seem to be using it differently from the sense that I know: a phrase that is not part of the main proposition, and which usually represents the speaker's (or writer's) opinion of, or comment on, the proposition. For me, the only one of your examples that is a disjunct is "to be honest". In "They have left, very early", I see the phrase "very early" as an adjunct; the comma simply adds a pause for emphasis, or perhaps indicates an afterthought, but "very early" is still part of the proposition itself. The same applies to "but not with you".

    In the sentences containing "with a pistol", that phrase, wherever it's positioned, is very much part of the main proposition; so I don't see how it can be a disjunct.
    [...] The principles behind them might be the same. But we cannot simply preclude a possibility of existing a difference between them. [...]
    Indeed, precluding such a possibility with insufficient evidence would be most unscientific. But based on what we've seen so far, I can't see any difference.

    Ws:)
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    In "They have left, very early", I see the phrase "very early" as an adjunct; the comma simply adds a pause for emphasis, or perhaps indicates an afterthought, but "very early" is still part of the proposition itself. The same applies to "but not with you".

    In the sentences containing "with a pistol", that phrase, wherever it's positioned, is very much part of the main proposition; so I don't see how it can be a disjunct.
    Indeed many PPs like 'with a pistol' are adjuncts semantically, being part of the proposition.
    However, PP adjuncts, in contrast to manner adverbs like 'quickly' and 'carefully', usually cannot precede the verb:

    'John quickly stood up'---good
    'Mary carefully opened the letter.'---good, but
    'John with a high speed stood up'---bad
    'Mary in a careful manner opened the letter'---bad.
    'The young Costello with a pistol executed a man kneeling in the surf.'---bad.

    Only with commas can they do so:

    'John, with a high speed, stood up'---good
    'Mary, in a careful manner, opened the letter'---good
    'The young Costello, with a pistol, executed a man kneeling in the surf.'---good

    If they are really adjuncts, they should appear before the verb just like manner adverbs, which are definitely adjuncts.

    This makes me doubt about the status of the PP adjuncts with commas. That is, such PPs seem to behave the way disjuncts do, regardless of the fact that they are parts of the proposition semantically. But it is unclear to me why such PPs can precede the verb when there are commas, that is, how they differ in meaning from those which are in the normal position, namely, postverbal position. I guess they have something invisible to do with what the speaker wants to highlight.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...]
    'John quickly stood up'---good
    'Mary carefully opened the letter.'---good, but
    'John with a at high speed stood up'---bad
    'Mary in a careful manner opened the letter'---bad. [...]
    Agreed. The last two don't work because the prepositional phrases appear to qualify John and Mary respectively, as though "at high speed" and "in a careful manner" were characteristics of the people rather than of their momentary actions: but that would make no sense.
    [...] 'The young Costello with a pistol executed a man kneeling in the surf.'---bad. [...]
    Not necessarily bad. This sentence is possible, because "with a pistol" could quite feasibly define which young Costello is meant: the one with a pistol.
    [...]
    'John with a at high speed, stood up'---good
    'Mary, in a careful manner, opened the letter'---good
    'The young Costello, with a pistol, executed a man kneeling in the surf.'---good. [...]
    As discussed earlier, these are possible constructions, but very unusual.
    [...] If they are really adjuncts, they should appear before the verb just like manner adverbs, which are definitely adjuncts.
    Why? :confused: I'm not aware of any definition of an adjunct that requires that it be positioned (or even be able to be positioned) before the verb!

    You said it yourself: "PP adjuncts, in contrast to manner adverbs like 'quickly' and 'carefully', usually cannot precede the verb". That's the guideline. It's not 'If it can't precede the verb, it isn't an adjunct'!
    [...] This makes me doubt about the status of the PP adjuncts with commas. That is, such PPs seem to behave the way disjuncts do, regardless of the fact that they are parts of the proposition semantically. [...]
    You seem to be suggesting that setting off a phrase between commas causes it to be a disjunct! But that's not so. It often makes it non-restrictive, but that's not the same thing.
    [...] But it is unclear to me why such PPs can precede the verb when there are commas, that is, how they differ in meaning from those which are in the normal position, namely, postverbal position. I guess they have something invisible to do with what the speaker wants to highlight.
    But they don't differ in meaning from those in the normal postverbal position. The meaning is the same. That unusual construction may, as you say, be used for emphasis (or, as I mentioned earlier, for scansion or rhyming reasons in poetry or song).

    Ws:)
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    Originally Posted by Chigch[...] 'The young Costello with a pistol executed a man kneeling in the surf.'---bad. [...]

    Not necessarily bad. This sentence is possible, because "with a pistol" could quite feasibly define which young Costello is meant: the one with a pistol
    I meant to say that the sentence is bad in a sense where the PP modifies the verbal phrase rather than the NP subject.

    Originally Posted by Chigch[...] This makes me doubt about the status of the PP adjuncts with commas. That is, such PPs seem to behave the way disjuncts do, regardless of the fact that they are parts of the proposition semantically. [...]

    You seem to be suggesting that setting off a phrase between commas causes it to be a disjunct! But that's not so. It often makes it non-restrictive, but that's not the same thing.
    Non-restrictive expressions are always redundant and it's deletion does not affect the core meaning of the sentence. This is the same for disjuncts. But pragmatically, disjuncts and non-restrictive expressions might be different, if we take a closer look into the syntax of the sentence and the semantics of proposition associated with it.

    But they don't differ in meaning from those in the normal postverbal position. The meaning is the same. That unusual construction may, as you say, be used for emphasis (or, as I mentioned earlier, for scansion or rhyming reasons in poetry or song)
    If they are used in non-poetry contexts, I think there must a difference in interpretation. Without an effect of interpretation, nothing would appear in a different position than the normal position.

    By the way, is it the case that sentences like 'The young Costello, with a pistol, executed a man kneeling in the surf.' are only possible in poetry or song and therefore the abnormal position does not cause any different meaning?
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] Non-restrictive expressions are always redundant [...]
    I'd say they're dispensable (because the information they provide is supplementary), but not redundant (because they do serve a purpose that is not served by any other part of the sentence).
    [...] But pragmatically, disjuncts and non-restrictive expressions might be different [...]
    For me, they are different. Perhaps you have a different definition of "disjunct" from mine, which I gave in #17.

    For example, your "But pragmatically", in the above sentence, is a disjunct. It's a point of view relating to the whole proposition that follows it. It doesn't modify any element of that proposition in any way that would be described as either restrictive or non-restrictive.
    [...] If they are used in non-poetry contexts, I think there must a difference in interpretation. Without an effect of interpretation, nothing would appear in a different position than the normal position. [...]
    :eek: What's your basis for that assertion, Chigch? Why must there be a difference? (That's a bit like saying that synonyms don't exist because if there are two different words they must have two different meanings!). I see no difference in interpretation between "Mary opened the letter in a careful manner" and "Mary, in a careful manner, opened the letter".
    [...] By the way, is it the case that sentences like 'The young Costello, with a pistol, executed a man kneeling in the surf.' are only possible in poetry or song and therefore the abnormal position does not cause any different meaning?
    No, that's not the case. You shouldn't be looking for a general rule to apply to the positioning of all prepositional phrases regardless of semantic considerations. As my first two points in post #19 showed, the potential for a change of meaning depends on whether a different meaning is possible.

    There's no such entity as a "Mary in a careful manner", so that's not a possible second meaning. "Mary, in a careful manner, opened the letter" will be read as having the same meaning as "Mary opened the letter in a careful manner". The commas just represent the way it would be spoken, with pauses, because the adverbial phrase is out of its natural place.

    On the other hand, a "young Costello with a pistol" is a perfectly feasible entity. So "The young Costello with a pistol executed a man kneeling in the surf" has a meaning (he's the one with a pistol) that is completely different from that of "The young Costello executed, with a pistol, a man kneeling in the surf" (he did it with a pistol).

    If you now add the commas to the first version, to give "The young Costello, with a pistol, executed a man kneeling in the surf", the phrase "with a pistol" would still normally be read as modifying "the young Costello" (and not "executed"). What the commas do in this case is to make "with a pistol" non-restrictive.

    In the 'Mary' sentence, moving the phrase, "in a careful manner", doesn't change the meaning — because there is no other feasible meaning.

    In the 'Costello' sentence, moving the phrase, "with a pistol", does change the meaning — because there is another possible meaning. What's more, that other meaning is the one normally associated with that modified word order, which reduces (or even removes) the chances of the sentence being read with the original meaning.

    Ws:)
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    What's your basis for that assertion, Chigch? Why must there be a difference? (That's a bit like saying that synonyms don't exist because if there are two different words they must have two different meanings!). I see no difference in interpretation between "Mary opened the letter in a careful manner" and "Mary, in a careful manner, opened the letter".
    I would say that they have no difference in meaning, but they have (a) difference(s) in interpretation. If there is no difference, why does the speaker choose the abnormal order (if we do not consider prosodic factor)? There should be no identical expressions. What the speaker wants to highlight or defocus may cause a different interpretation, even though the meaning doesn't change. One difference is, at least, one of restrictiveness. As you said, commas make non-restrictiveness. '..., in a careful manner, opened the letter.' and '... opened the letter in a careful manner' is one instance. Moreover, '..., in a careful manner, opened the letter.' is also different from '...opened the letter, in a careful manner.'. Theoretically, nothing would happen without any cause. If you say there is no difference at all between them, then I can only say human language is not economic, i.e. one is enough for the same thing, but there are two.

    As an instance of different interpretation, 'A man appeared in the platform.' and 'In the platform appeared a man' and 'In the platform, a man appeared' are all the same in meaning, i.e. the proposition doesn't change, but different in interpretation, i.e. the speaker wants to convey different information. As for the differences between them, I leave them to native speakers.
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    If there is no difference in interpretation at all, there must be some other factor such as prosodic one that causes a different word order. If neither difference in interpretation exists, nor prosodic factor comes at play, there would be no different word order.

    'The man died in an accident that happened last year in the street located not too far from here'---good
    'The man, in an accident that happened last year in the street located not too far from here, died'---bad?
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] If there is no difference, why does the speaker choose the abnormal order (if we do not consider prosodic factor)? [...]
    People rarely plan out sentences before they speak. The word order will often reflect the order in which they think of the different elements. That doesn't necessarily mean they're placing emphasis on a particular element.
    [...] If neither difference in interpretation exists, nor prosodic factor comes at play, there would be no different word order. [...]
    In some sort of linguistic utopia, that might be true. But this is the real world.
    [...] If you say there is no difference at all between them, then I can only say human language is not economic, i.e. one is enough for the same thing, but there are two. [...]
    Exactly! You've got it. Though I don't think we should really talk about "human language" in this context, as some languages are more 'economical' than others. Perhaps your native language is economical (?). But English, in part because of its multiple roots, perhaps also because of its myriad dialects, and maybe because there's no central language authority, often has two or more ways of expressing the same thing, even if one is theoretically enough. If you want to understand the English language properly, you have to come to terms with that.
    [...] As you said, commas make non-restrictiveness. '..., in a careful manner, opened the letter.' and '... opened the letter in a careful manner' is one instance. [...]
    I don't see how that's an instance of (non-)restrictiveness. Commas sometimes indicate non-restrictiveness, but they also have other functions. In both your examples, the adverbial phrase gives additional information on how she opened the letter. Can you explain why you think the version without commas is restrictive?
    [...] 'A man appeared in the platform.' and 'In the platform appeared a man' and 'In the platform, a man appeared' are all the same in meaning, i.e. the proposition doesn't change, but different in interpretation, i.e. the speaker wants to convey different information. As for the differences between them, I leave them to native speakers.
    What different information does the speaker want to convey? If leaving that to native speakers means you don't know, then what's your basis for saying there are differences?
    [...] 'The man, in an accident that happened last year in the street located not too far from here, died'---bad?
    Yes, very bad!

    Ws:)
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    People rarely plan out sentences before they speak. The word order will often reflect the order in which they think of the different elements. That doesn't necessarily mean they're placing emphasis on a particular element
    The word 'choose' in my post is read as 'unconsciously choose'. Of course, no one makes a plan before uttering. The sentences uttered by them are just strictly organized or structured and 'chosen' by the speaker as the most appropriate variant, among/between the alternatives if any, to convey what he/she wants to say in mind.

    But this is the real world.
    I don't understand this. sorry.:eek:

    ... But English, in part because of its multiple roots, perhaps also because of its myriad dialects, and maybe because there's no central language authority, often has two or more ways of expressing the same thing, even if one is theoretically enough....
    These factors may induce variety of the English language. I don't think they have anything to do with problems like 'whether different positions yield (in)different interpretations'. They can only induce dialectical differences.

    Can you explain why you think the version without commas is restrictive?
    I just can't find a reason to see the version without commas as non-restrictive.
    There, however, are exceptions, but in nominal phrases:

    My happy wife, angry John, blue sky, round earth...

    What different information does the speaker want to convey? If leaving that to native speakers means you don't know, then what's your basis for saying there are differences?
    'A man appeared in the platform.' : This is the normal order. The NP 'a man' is the subject; that is this sentence is a proposition about the man.


    'In the platform appeared a man.' : By fronting the PP, the sentence is a proposition about 'in the platform', not about 'a man'; that is the PP, not the NP, is the subject of this sentence. 'Appeared a man' is the predicate.


    'In the platform, a man appeared' : The fronted PP is topicalized; that is ' (taking over the preceding sentence) As for the platform, a man appeared there'. The NP 'a man' is subject and 'appeared in the platform' is the predicate, out of which 'in the platform' is topicalized (because it might have been mentioned in the preceding sentence(s)) and therefore fronted.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    [...] Of course, no one makes a plan before uttering. The sentences uttered by them are just strictly organized or structured and 'chosen' by the speaker as the most appropriate variant, [...]
    But my whole point was that sometimes sentences are not 'strictly organized or structured', and that what is said is not necessarily the appropriate variant: hence the abnormal order.
    [...] I don't understand this. sorry.:eek: [...]
    I meant that if you set out to invent a perfectly 'economical' language, you probably wouldn't have two ways of saying the same thing. But in the real world, languages don't develop according to some theoretical plan. So the existence of two different forms doesn't automatically mean that there's any difference in meaning or 'interpretation'. It may just mean there are two different forms for the same thing.
    [...] I don't think they have anything to do with problems like 'whether different positions yield (in)different interpretations'. [...]
    But they do. For example, English owes its syntax to various roots, notably Germanic and Romance influences. It's quite possible that two different sentence structures, resulting from these different influences, could convey the same meaning and have the same interpretation.
    [...] 'In On the platform appeared a man.' : By fronting the PP, the sentence is a proposition about 'in on the platform', not about 'a man'; that is the PP, not the NP, is the subject of this sentence. 'Appeared a man' is the predicate.[...]
    :eek::eek: Subject-verb inversion doesn't transform the subject into an object! Fronting an adverbial phrase doesn't make it the subject of the verb it's modifying! Appear is always intransitive, so how can man be the object of appeared? It isn't, it's still the subject.

    But I suggest we don't stray any further from your original question, which was about a phrase ("with a pistol") that does have a different meaning if its position is changed. I think we've found enough other examples to show that moving a phrase doesn't always result in a change of meaning or potential interpretation, and that you need to look at each case individually rather than try to find a general rule.

    Ws:)
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    But my whole point was that sometimes sentences are not 'strictly organized or structured', and that what is said is not necessarily the appropriate variant: hence the abnormal order.
    You seem to have misunderstood 'strictly organized or structured'. But we'd better to forget it for it is a linguistic matter and a further discussion about it would be pointless here. If one thinks that an abnormal order receives the same interpretation as the normal order, it would turn to be that thousands of sentences with abnormal order are all default forms for the interpretation. Then the problem is why speakers utter so many sentences with abnormal order, if they are not default? I think speakers do so just because they (unconsciously) are conveying a slightly different meaning. Generally, native speakers do not know what is happening with the sentences that are created internally because human's brain (that creates the sentences) is always unapproachable by only looking at the surface form of the sentences created.

    I meant that if you set out to invent a perfectly 'economical' language, you probably wouldn't have two ways of saying the same thing. But in the real world, languages don't develop according to some theoretical plan. So the existence of two different forms doesn't automatically mean that there's any difference in meaning or 'interpretation'. It may just mean there are two different forms for the same thing
    Of course, linguistic theories are not able to develop a language. If two different forms have the totally same meaning and interpretation, why aren't there more different forms for the same meaning and interpretation? The same form can have different meanings (e.g., I expect him to win, has at least three interpretations), but the same meaning or interpretation should not have two different forms. If you think that it should have as you have said, could you give a straightforward and uncontroversial example?

    But they do. For example, English owes its syntax to various roots, notably Germanic and Romance influences. It's quite possible that two different sentence structures, resulting from these different influences, could convey the same meaning and have the same interpretation.
    If possible, please give some examples. Some words are reported to have originated in French or some other languages, hence two words for the same thing. But because of economic nature of language, many of them have undergone shift of meaning or become obsolete. (e.g., 'deer' meant 'animal' historically, but because there is another word 'animal' for the same thing, 'deer' turned to refer to one of animals, namely, deer.) So, if the history or origin ('root' in your sense) of the language affected the different sentence forms to contribute to the same meaning, one of them must disappear because there is no two winners in grammar competition.

    Subject-verb inversion doesn't transform the subject into an object! Fronting an adverbial phrase doesn't make it the subject of the verb it's modifying!
    Appear is always intransitive, so how can man be the object of appeared? It isn't, it's still the subject.
    Yes, 'appear' is intransitive (BTW, it had a transitive use in the history of the language). But it is unaccusative, not unergative, both being intransitive. If you are interested, you can check about the interactions of unaccusative verbs with Locative Inversion and There-existential constructions. I don't want to say further about it, for it is beyond the scope of this thread.

    you need to look at each case individually rather than try to find a general rule
    There are principles behind every linguistic phenomena. Theoretically, no individual phenomena (except meta-linguistic phenomena) will violate the principles.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    You seem to have misunderstood 'strictly organized or structured'. [...]
    No. I'm familiar with all those words.
    [...]If one thinks that an abnormal order receives the same interpretation as the normal order, it would turn to be that thousands of sentences with abnormal order are all default forms for the interpretation. [...]
    All cows are four-legged animals. Not all four-legged animals are cows.
    [...]The same form can have different meanings [...] but the same meaning or interpretation should not have two different forms.[...]
    Is that some kind of divine commandment? Sorry to disappoint you but, again, take a look at the real world. In this forum alone, you'll find many questions about two different forms, and you'll often find many of the erudite and educated contributors replying that they see no difference between the two.
    [...] If you think that it should have as you have said, could you give a straightforward and uncontroversial example? [...]
    [...]If possible, please give some examples. [...]
    We've already discussed several examples. Giving any more would be like flogging a dead horse!
    [...] So, if the history or origin ('root' in your sense) of the language affected the different sentence forms to contribute to the same meaning, one of them must disappear because there isare no two winners in grammar competition. [...]
    :eek: I find that a bizarre (and to my mind fallacious) theory. I suppose there's a fair chance of a certain form disappearing eventually (perhaps over decades, or centuries, or even millennia), but in the meantime the two or more runners in that race are jogging along quite happily together!
    [...] If you are interested, you can check about the interactions of unaccusative verbs with Locative Inversion and There-existential constructions. [...]
    No, thanks. I'm perfectly content with the normal definitions of subject and object. And I'm not going to go around 'appearing people' when it's the people who are appearing (regardless of any inversion or fronting).
    [...] There are principles behind every all linguistic phenomena. Theoretically, no individual phenomena (except meta-linguistic phenomena) will violate the principles.[...]
    Yes, but you need to make sure you have the principle correctly defined in the first place. In the case of the phenomenon in question, you'd need either to develop a very complex principle (with a lot of riders and exceptions), or to recognise it as being several different phenomena, each with its own principle. Good luck with that! (You may be interested in reading up on the potential application of chaos theory in linguistics. Here's a simple article to begin with.)

    Ws:)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    'A man appeared in the platform.' : This is the normal order. The NP 'a man' is the subject; that is this sentence is a proposition about the man.

    'In the platform appeared a man.' : By fronting the PP, the sentence is a proposition about 'in the platform', not about 'a man'; that is the PP, not the NP, is the subject of this sentence. 'Appeared a man' is the predicate.

    'In the platform, a man appeared' : The fronted PP is topicalized; that is ' (taking over the preceding sentence) As for the platform, a man appeared there'. The NP 'a man' is subject and 'appeared in the platform' is the predicate, out of which 'in the platform' is topicalized (because it might have been mentioned in the preceding sentence(s)) and therefore fronted.
    It seems there is a difference in terminology or concepts here:D

    The conceptualization above of "propositions" and "topics" as distinct from "sentences" is something I tried to come to grips with when learning that distinction in Japanese and the use of "topic markers" (in particular the traditional translation of one of them being "as for X"). I don't think it is useful to try to apply it to English and say that "on the platform" is the "subject of the sentence". It may be the intended main topic (and that is why it is presented first), but that is a different concept. As WS says, in all those versions, "A man appeared" is "subject-verb" whether it comes after the prepositional phrase "on the platform" or before it. The inversion only changes the word order, not the function of the parts of speech. In English, I think we would agree that when there are various (grammatically correct) word orders available, the order can be determined by what the speaker/writer wants to emphasize (designate as the topic) - or which information is "more important" or "less important" to the communication. The overall information is the same, (and so is the interpretation, grammar and word function) but our attention is directed (by the speaker or writer's choice of word order) to one part or another of the information for a desired outcome. For illustration

    1) We could see a strange man in the window of the castle at the top of the hill. The writer wishes to tell us about the strange man first and provides additional/secondary information about his location. The man is the "topic" - information about that is more important than what follows.
    2) In the window of the castle on the top of the hill we could see a strange man. Here we are learning about the (window of the) castle on top of the hill first and the additional information is that there is a strange man in one of the windows. Here the "topic" is the (window of the) castle.
    The success of this approach to steering the reader's experience of the narrative can be determined by the way the sentence coordinates with its surroundings. The style of the text and the order in which information is presented (or withheld until the end of the sentence for surpise effect, for example) can create atmosphere and mystery and intrigue etc.
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    The conceptualization above of "propositions" and "topics" as distinct from "sentences" is something I tried to come to grips with when learning that distinction in Japanese and the use of "topic markers" (in particular the traditional translation of one of them being "as for X"). I don't think it is useful to try to apply it to English and say that "on the platform" is the "subject of the sentence".
    English topicalization has nothing to do with the Japanese topic marker -wa, although they have similarities.

    "A man appeared" is "subject-verb" whether it comes after the prepositional phrase "on the platform" or before it. The inversion only changes the word order, not the function of the parts of speech.
    You are right. 'A man' must be the subject. To say that it is the object is to say that it is the surface (a linguistic term) object. But I don't want to make a further discussion of this issue because a linguistic analysis is not needed in a language forum. We'd better stay inside the real world. (Sorry if I might have brought some boring linguistic views.)

    In English, I think we would agree that when there are various (grammatically correct) word orders available, the order can be determined by what the speaker/writer wants to emphasize (designate as the topic) - or which information is "more important" or "less important" to the communication.
    This is what I have tried to connect my earlier discussions with: differences in interpretation between two different word orders of the same words.

    By the way, if the PP is inserted between the aux and the main verb, how do you interpret the sentence, which is numbered 3 below?

    3) We could, in the window of the castle at the top of the hill, see a strange man.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    English topicalization has nothing to do with the Japanese topic marker -wa, although they have similarities.
    I was referring to my difficulty dealing with the difference between Engish and Japanese "topicalization" . It is a term foreign to most English speakers and I found your description of the situation of the man on the platform and topicalization confusing. That's why I responded as I did in the thread.

    This is what I have tried to connect my earlier discussions with: differences in interpretation between two different word orders of the same words.
    I think we need to be very clear on terminolgy here: specifically the distinction between differences in interpretation and differences in meaning. In my castle examples, I don't see a difference in meaning or in interpretation by reversing the order of the communication. But perhaps you see the difference in "style" or "atmosphere" or "relative importance of the two halves" as a difference in "interpretation". At the end of each sentence, the listener has the same information. Do you have a different "interpretation" of
    a) We had the meeting after lunch.
    and
    b) We had lunch before the meeting.
    In a) the speaker is focused on the meeting (the meeting is the "topic"?), while in b) they are focused on lunch (lunch is the "topic"?). I would expect a) as the answer to "When did you have the meeting?" and b) as the answer to "When did you have lunch?". However, a) and b) have the same information content (for me) and I interpret the basic meaning the same way: "lunch then meeting".

    By the way, if the PP is inserted between the aux and the main verb, how do you interpret the sentence, which is numbered 3 below?
    3) We could, in the window of the castle at the top of the hill, see a strange man.
    The same as the others but with an unusual word order. It has a similar "style" or "order of importance of information" as 2) above, because we do not find out about the man until the end of the sentence. It confuses, however, because there is a similarity to the sentence "We could, from the window of the castle at the top of the hill, see a strange man." In the "from" version it is clear that we are at the window of the castle, while with the "in" version the reader has to deal with the momentary possibility that the writer means that "we" are "in the window", before dismissing it as "clumsy style". So I end up with the same information as the other sentences but with a different reaction to the style (perhaps in your terminology this difference in reaction is a difference in interpretation?).
    Veering back to the original issue, if you had moved the PP even earlier:
    4) We, in the window of the castle at the top of the hill, could see a strange man.
    then you would have changed the meaning becacuse now the PP clearly describes "we" and not the man, and now the interpretation has changed by changing the word order.
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I agree, JS: terminology is all important. In support of your comments (though not to preach to the converted ;)), I would suggest the following thoughts to anyone who's interested:

    "Meaning" is a characteristic of a phrase (or a word, or a sentence). A phrase can therefore "have a meaning". It may have several possible meanings.

    "Interpretation", on the other hand, is not an intrinsic characteristic of a phrase. It's an action by the listener or reader. So a phrase may be interpreted in a certain way, but at the moment when it's spoken or written it doesn't "have an interpretation".

    This would support the conclusion that a change of word order may or may not change the meaning, but that in itself (without the intervention of a reader) it can't change the interpretation. A change of word order may affect the probability of a certain interpretation being subsequently placed on it; but, since a reader's interpretation is unpredictable, the change of order can't be firmly associated with a particular interpretation.

    Ws:)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Thanks That's the longer version of my signature - but with clearer detail:)

    Having come from a career in a technical field where some words were far more restricted in meaning than for their everyday use, I anticipated some terminology constraints coming into play here.
     
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    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    Hi, JS,

    It is a term foreign to most English speakers and I found your description of the situation of the man on the platform and topicalization confusing
    a) We had the meeting after lunch.
    and
    b) We had lunch before the meeting.
    In a) the speaker is focused on the meeting (the meeting is the "topic"?), while in b) they are focused on lunch (lunch is the "topic"?)
    I found that the (linguistic) term 'topicalization', which I have used in this thread, is no so transparent to you, and probably to most (non-linguistic) native speakers. I don't want to say more of this term here. Let us put the matters another way.

    I don't see a difference in meaning or in interpretation by reversing the order of the communication. But perhaps you see the difference in "style" or "atmosphere" or "relative importance of the two halves" as a difference in "interpretation". At the end of each sentence, the listener has the same information.
    Likewise, our understandings of the term 'interpretation' have been differing, which I have just found. What you call 'the difference in "style" or ...' is the difference in interpretation for me. But you have not taken 'interpretation' as this. How do you name the difference in "style" or ...? I call it a difference in interpretation or an interpretive difference.

    In a) the speaker is focused on the meeting (the meeting is the "topic"?), while in b) they are focused on lunch (lunch is the "topic"?).
    Of course, they are not 'topic'. TOPIC must be located in the beginning of a sentence. So-called topic is also a linguistic term, differing from 'topic' in 'Today's topic is how to broaden our market'.

    However, a) and b) have the same information content (for me) and I interpret the basic meaning the same way: "lunch then meeting".
    They have the same meaning "lunch then meeting"??:eek: What is your definition of 'meaning'?

    So I end up with the same information as the other sentences but with a different reaction to the style (perhaps in your terminology this difference in reaction is a difference in interpretation?).
    That's right.
     

    Chigch

    Senior Member
    Mongolian
    Hi, Wordsmyth,

    "Interpretation", on the other hand, is not an intrinsic characteristic of a phrase. It's an action by the listener or reader. So a phrase may be interpreted in a certain way, but at the moment when it's spoken or written it doesn't "havean interpretation".
    It appears to be so. But not so, in fact. Things are not so simple.

    Our understandings of the terms used in our discussion have differed until now. This caused partially the apparent contradictions between our opinions.
    But I have found an answer to my questions in post#33: different word orders have differences in interpretation (I still use this linguistic term. And it's up to you how you call the differences in 'style' or 'importance' ....).


    <<The new question has been moved to its own thread:
    http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=2907931

    velisarius, moderator>>
     
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